Role of money in European football competitions

Shy politics will continue European football’s competitive discrepancy

Dutch MEP Paul Tang hosted a stakeholder discussion at the European Parliament this afternoon (27th September 2016) on ‘The Role of Money in European Football Competitions’.

Mr Tang opened the event by remarking that, “Sport and politics do not often go together.  Politics is too shy to intervene.”

In response speakers representing FIFPRO, the English Premier League, UEFA and the European Commission discussed major competitive discrepancies between the top 5 richest football leagues in Europe and nations like the Netherlands – no longer competitive in continental club football.

Theo Van Seggelen of international footballers union FIFPRO outlined problems caused by economic imbalances. “Football is a business and money must be spent better.  Clubs take massive risks in the transfer system to qualify for European football competitions,” he explained.  “Chelsea have 40 good players on loan to other football clubs.  These players could be owned by clubs in small countries.”  

UEFA Legal Counsel Julien Zylberstein stated, “The European Court’s Bosman judgement in 1995 removed restrictions on the recruitment of players, but it also enhanced and insured the competition gap.”  Zylberstein claimed UEFA initiatives are effectively addressing the competitive balance. “FFP (UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations) tackles financial instability.  Losses incurred by football clubs reduced from 1.7bn to 325mn in 2015.  9 professional leagues were profitable, and now there are 25.”

Mathieu Moreuil highlighted that the system used in the English Premier League makes for good competition.  “Last season Leicester City won the league so the gap is not growing between clubs in the Premier League.  We have an egalitarian system, for example, money made in television deals outside of the UK is split equally between all 20 clubs.”

European Commission representative Szabolcs Horvath demonstrated how difficult it is for the EU to intervene in sports.  “The treaties do not allow us to impose the Premier League model across Europe.  We are aware that there are inefficiencies in the European football economy but it is a case by case basis on how we can intervene.”

The panellists all agreed that money has made  European football less competitive.  However, none of the representatives were keen to take the initiative to change the landscape.  Paul Tang’s words that politics is too shy to intervene ringed true.

Tang summarised, “There needs to be action.  But who will take action?  We can’t wait another 15 years.”

Not since 2004 has a European Champions League final featured a team from outside the top 5 leagues of Europe.  It is unlikely that this dominance will end any time soon.

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